Monday, July 28, 2008

How Good is Your Horsekeeping Situation?

As I made my rounds today, I was depressed to find several of the horses in my care still suffering from nasty, chronic thrush. While a good trim is essential to grow a healthy hoof, it is utterly useless if the horse lives in conditions that literally rot the hoof...small pens that make it impossible for the horse not to stand in urine or manure; deep, soft bedding or footing that holds moisture and easily packs into the hoof; and minimal exercise.

It brought to mind the story often told about how horseshoeing became popular in medieval times: horses kept in stalls in the castle, standing in urine and manure, quickly developed soft, rotten, painful feet. An enterprising blacksmith nailed a metal semi-circle on the bottom of a horse's feet, lifting him out of the muck, and the hoof seemed much healthier. We didn't know then what damage that nailed on shoe was really doing (and never mind that it has taken us an embarrassing span of time to finally figure it out), but it did seem to solve the problem of the hoof falling apart in horrendously unsanitary stabling conditions.

Like we humans often do, we approached the solution from entirely the wrong angle initially, and are only now realizing the repercussions. Not only was the horseshoe a bad solution to the problem, it was only addressing a symptom of the problem. The problem, it turns out, is really the stabling of a horse in a very small space where he is forced to stand around in his own excrement. That's not to say that a horse in a 10 acre pasture won't walk through manure; but that is entirely different than standing in it for hours on end. It's as if the hoof melts. The wall flares. The sole grows in desperately, in lumps and ridges, but crumbles from the constant soaking in muck. The frog becomes mushy, full of flaps, black, stinky, and sludgy, not to mention painful.

If you love your horse, find a way to improve his living situation. Pay for daily -- and I mean all day -- turnout in a drylot pasture. Find pasture board (but be very picky about the forage in the pasture!). Rent two adjoining pens, make them into one larger pen; then invest in pea gravel and/or sand to fill it, do everything in your power to see that the pen is cleaned not just once but TWICE a day, and make sure the horse's hooves are cleaned daily. Be creative; think outside the 24X24 box.

Sound extreme? Not really. Just extremely different than the way we've done it for far too long. And it's not just about the horse's hooves. You haven't met a truly happy horse until you've met a horse that lives in a herd, in a pasture, where they can gallop for a quarter mile without having to think about turning.

When they'll gallop that quarter mile to the sound of your voice calling their names, just for the chance to go for a ride, then you've met a truly happy horse.